Sunday, February 14, 2010

"Spellbound" (1945) recalls a personal mystery for me


The 1945 mystery “Spellbound” at first impression seems a little hokey compared to a lot of Alfred Hitchcock’s other mystery masterpieces, but despite the labyrinthine plot, the film grows on you as it progresses, and gives its view of the mind, of psychiatry, of mental illness, and how that mixes with “personal responsibility”.

The film was produced by Selznick International (the same company that made “Gone with the Wind”, with producer David O. Selznick), was formally released thru United Artists, with the DVD today a joint effort of MGM and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

The film also has a famous music score by Miklos Rosza, and the DVD offers an overture, along with Exit score (which today would accompany end credits). I believe there is a piano-and-orchestra version of the music.

The movie is adapted from the novel “The House of Dr. Edwardes” by John Palmer and Hilary St. George Sanders. Ingrid Bergman plays psychiatrist Dr. Constance Petersen, who falls in love with a young psychiatrist whom she first believes to be Dr. Anthony Edwardes, who has come as a replacement. She falls in love with him and soon finds out that he has amnesia, and that the real Edwardes is dead. A complicated mystery ensues, exploring all the conventions of psychiatry and analysis of the day. Her mentor (Michael Chekhov) is pretty much the stereotype of the shrink of the day. The idea that one gets sicker by repressing memories is explored. So is a dream sequence in a gambling hall in which John Ballantine (the real character played by Peck) plays a game of 21 and is chased by crawling eyes in the wall. Constance unravels a terrible accident in John’s past, and, from evidence in the dream (rather like a similar sequence in yesterday’s “White Ribbon”) pieces together the solution of the real murder. The movie is in BW, but flashed red for a moment in the final suicide.

There is a sequence where John shows his scarred-to-hairless wrist, from a war or other accident resulting in a third degree burn. That sequence and some other theories can be put together to correspond to a “mystery” behind my own sequence of psychiatric treatment at NIH in 1962. To me, the whole thing is quite remarkable. There is some other wandering subject matter, such as a mention by the mentor of urges and compulsive personality. I think that the psychiatrists who “treated” me knew this film well, and the ideas in the film do fill in some missing blanks for me.

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